I have gone through this process a few times now, bringing Thunder with me into France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, and Italy via plane. While the process might be slightly different for each country, bringing a dog into most places in Europe from the US is relatively straight forward. From what I understand, one exception to this rule would be the UK and Ireland which I believe require mandatory quarantine periods, so we have always avoided those destinations even for layovers.
First, the dog must be older than 15 weeks. It is possible to transport dogs younger than 15 weeks into some EU/Schengen Zone countries, but not all. For dogs younger than 15 weeks, you have two options.
1. The young dog must be nursing and dependent on its mother, and the mother needs to comply with the rules for dogs older than 15 weeks (needs a current rabies vaccination).
2. You can sign a Health Declaration stating that since the animal’s birth, it has had no contact with wild animals.
*Not all EU counties allow you to transport dogs younger than 15 weeks. Click here to see which countries do allow it.
For dogs older than 15 weeks, you are going to need a rabies vaccine and the certificate. The animal must wait 21 days after a “primary” rabies vaccination before it will be allowed into the EU.
A rabies vaccination is considered a primary vaccination by the EU when:
It is the animal’s first rabies vaccination.
It is the first rabies vaccination received after a new microchip is implanted.
The previous vaccination was expired when the latest vaccination was given.
As long as there has been no lapse in the dog’s rabies vaccinations, the dog does not have to wait 21 days before entry into the EU or Switzerland.
The dog must have an ISO compliant microchip that individually identifies the animal. According to the APHIS site, ISO compliant microchips are 15 digits long. You can check with the microchip manufacturer to determine whether the chip is ISO compliant or not.
If the chip is not an ISO compliant microchip, one option you have is to purchase your own microchip reader that reads the kind of chip your dog has implanted. Alternatively, you can reach out to the Veterinary Officials at your arrival airport and confirm whether or not they have a reader that is capable of reading your animal’s microchip.
If your animal’s chip is not ISO compliant, you do have the option of planting a new ISO compliant microchip, however if you go that route, your dog will need to be re-vaccinated for rabies and that will be considered a primary vaccination, meaning you will have to wait a minimum of 21 days before travel.
Paperwork: Note* your vet will need to be a USDA accredited veterinarian. Once you have found a USDA accredited vet, you will need to have her fill out the necessary paperwork. Be sure to go to the APHIS website to check the specifics of the country you’re entering: some countries might require the paperwork to be in their official language.
The paperwork is long and tedious and can be hard to read but it has sections for your vet to fill out. It is mostly ensuring that your dog meets the rabies vaccination standards. Once your vet properly fills out the paperwork and your dog is ready with vaccinations and everything, then comes the fun part.
You will need to mail that paperwork to your state’s USDA APHIS office to be officially stamped.
Here’s the kicker: the paperwork for entry into the destination country is only valid for 10 days. That means you need to have your appointment with your USDA accredited vet scheduled early enough, but not more than 10 days prior to arrival. You will then need to mail your paperwork into the APHIS office with a self-addressed return envelope and the necessary fees. (At the time of this writing, in Florida the fee is $38 for one dog). If you are worried about timing, be sure to send the packages overnight both ways. You might get away with two-day shipping, but keep in mind, the APHIS office is government stuff—sometimes it can take longer than you might expect. So you will need to schedule your vet appointment within 10 days of your arrival in the destination country, and you will need to have enough time to send your paperwork in to the APHIS office and have it sent back, officially stamped.
You can opt to schedule an appointment with the APHIS office if you are within reasonable driving distance. You can get an appointment and have them stamp your paperwork and you’ll be ready to go. Unfortunately, this option is not always available nor feasible if the APHIS office is located several hours away. (Also, at the time of this writing in August 2020, COVID has made it such that APHIS is not accepting appointments, at least in Florida.)
So there you have it. A general idea of what you will need to bring your dog into the EU, Switzerland, and most other European countries. The UK and Ireland are more strict on their requirements and may require mandatory quarantine, so do your homework diligently if you plan to stay or pass through one of those countries. As always, remember to double check all of this information and be sure to go to the USDA APHIS site to make sure you cover the specifics about where you are traveling to.
As for the return, in most cases returning to the United States is easy and only requires your rabies certificate. *Update: as of July 14, 2021, the CDC is temporarily suspending dog imports from countries classified as "high-risk" for rabies. The suspension includes U.S.-origin pet dogs returning to the U.S. from any high-risk rabies country.
If you and your pup are into adventure, here are 7 Tips for Traveling with Your Dog. Regardless of your means of travel, a dog backpack like the new DOGPAK Moab Lite daypack for dogs can make your life easier by allowing your pup to carry food, snacks, water, a collapsable travel bowl, bags, toys, or anything else you might need for the trip. Here you can read more about the various uses of a dog backpack.
Thanks for reading and best of luck on your travels! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.